Public affairs – market update H1 2014

Since the start of the new year there has been a notable upturn in the hiring activity of communications agencies/consultancies in the public affairs space. Below, Amandeep Gill of Michael Page Policy, looks at what factors have influenced this. Is this a temporary boom or the beginning of a long-term trend and what does this mean in terms of recruitment for your business? 
Although this is applicable to all sectors within the public affairs area - two areas that appear to have seen the most activity is property/planning and health. In my opinion this is a result of three main factors:
1) New entrants/expansion in the market – a number of consultancies, for example, Incisive Health, a new powerhouse in the healthcare space, have been increasing competition for the best candidates in the market. This has started to shake up the recruitment waters sending ripples that affect every other business in the market, which in turn drives up salaries, particularly at the account manager/director levels. Ultimately, this is having a knock on effect forcing other businesses to hire replacements for talent lost to their competitors. 
2) Fewer hires in Q3 and Q4 2013 – towards the end of last year, most businesses were taking a conservative approach to hiring, only hiring if absolutely necessary while contemplating their business plans for 2014. This pause in recruitment came at a time when the market was just beginning to pick up and most businesses were still trying to gauge if this was a temporary upturn or indicative of a long-term trend. As it transpired, it was the latter.
3) Booming property market – an increase in planning work from both private and public sector clients is seeing more and more instructions flooding in the door of planning agencies who in turn need greater capacity to be able to service these client needs. Most other sectors seem to be in a similar situation.
Revenues for public affairs consultancies are set to increase for the third consecutive year which suggests a longer term trend - great news for the whole industry. Staff retention and investment in staff development will be crucial for long term stability and success. Still, hiring new talent will be important too. Be warned, your competitors will be looking to poach your best talent from you.

Keep your top talent

The public affairs market has always been a candidate-driven market. Consultancies are happy to invest in good talent which will ultimately add value i.e. bringing in new business, establish new contacts, etc. At the account manager level and above, there is a shortfall of candidates now more than there ever has been. If you are an account manager, now would be a good time to look at what options there might be for you to widen your skills or boost your salary.
On the other hand, at the account executive level, there is always a healthy supply of eager young talent looking to burst onto the scene. Unfortunately, this means consultancies won’t pay a premium rate at this level as supply far exceeds demand.

What our clients want from candidates

If you are a candidate looking to enter this market, there are three fundamental things that public affairs consultancies are always looking for. I hear my clients repeat this time and time again.
1) Passion for politics – do you have the relevant experience working in or around Westminster e.g working for an MP, internships in communications consultancies or working in local etc?
2) Commercial acumen – can you identify the main contacts, leads and new business opportunities in your industry quickly? Are you someone a client or decision maker can turn to for advice and guidance?
3) Likeability/buy in – are you a people person and good at engagement with groups at all levels, from senior stakeholders to an average member of the public? Do people trust and want to work with you?

Priorities for candidates

If you are an employer looking to attract talent and perhaps more crucially, looking to retain existing talent, here are the top three factors most candidates consider when moving:
1) Scope for learning – some candidates want to move in-house or to a different type of agency where they can develop and/or learn new skills. Client secondments are a great tool here to satisfy their desire to learn and strengthen bonds with your clients.
2) Remuneration – after all, agencies are profit-driven businesses. Your staff are a reflection of these values and will want to be remunerated accordingly.
3) Career progression – some candidates feel they have risen as far as they can with their current employer and may think that there is a glass ceiling stopping further progression. Conversely, it may be a small team where they feel limited by the existing model.
The trends above are set to continue well into 2014, shifting the balance of power further in favour of candidates who as a result will command better salaries. Savvy employers will retain top talent by deploying strategies to make staff feel valued and motivated. Be warned, consultancies that fail to keep staff happy will lose their top talent to their competitors.
For queries about our public affairs recruitment services and current vacancies, please contact Amandeep Gill at Michael Page Policy.